Black Days: Trauma and suicide risk


Chris Cornell, the lead singer for the band Soundgarden, died the night before last. He took his own life after a packed out, incredible show, during which he seemed to be anything but depressed. Soundgarden's Superunknown (1994) was the first CD I ever bought, and I remember my parents debating its merits, as it had a song about suicide. The song "Black Days" encapsulated many of the dark thoughts troubling Cornell throughout his life.

My point in mentioning this is that suicide across the lifespan is directly related to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Cornell had a troubled childhood, characterized by feeling rejected and alone. Music was his therapy in many ways, but he also masked the emotions with drugs as young as 13, as do many traumatized children.

ACEs are defined broadly as abuse, family strife, and neglect (see link below). There are specific types of traumatic events within these three categories, such as sexual abuse, emotional abuse, drug use in the household, parents' divorce, or domestic violence. By counting how many of these a person has experienced, trauma can be measured as a "score." Research based on this definition has produced some shocking conclusions. Take this quote, for instance:

"ACEs have a strong, graded relationship to suicide attempts during childhood/adolescence and adulthood. An ACE score of 7 or more increased the risk of suicide attempts 51-fold among children/adolescents and 30-fold among adults. [...] Nearly two-thirds (64%) of suicide attempts among adults were attributable to ACEs and 80% of suicide attempts during childhood/adolescence were attributed to ACEs. Further...the strongest predictor of future suicide attempts in ACE research was emotional abuse." (See "Health Federation" link below.)

That is simply incredible. However, increased suicide risk is present with lower ACE scores also, even scores of 1 or 2. Other negative life outcomes, such as increased risk for disease, seem only to occur at high scores. But, "in contrast...suicide increases stepwise from low to high scores." (See "Scientific American" link below.)

Read the evidence. Get family therapy. Seek trauma treatment. Don't let your children grow up trying to hide the trauma they have suffered. The sad fact in every study is not only that ACEs can be prevented, but that they can be successfully treated. EMDR is one of the best treatments, if not the best. Give me a call if you or someone in your family has been through ACEs.

Click here to link to see the definition of "ACE."

Click here to link to the Health Federation article.

Click here to link to Scientific American article.